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You Might Have Missed: Syria Intervention, WMDs, the "Black Budget”

chemical weapons inspector in Syria

August 30, 2013

chemical weapons inspector in Syria
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Barton Gellman and Greg Miller, “U.S. spy network’s successes, failures and objectives detailed in ‘black budget’ summary,” Washington Post, August 29, 2013.

The $52.6 billion “black budget” for fiscal 2013, obtained by The Washington Post from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, maps a bureaucratic and operational landscape that has never been subject to public scrutiny…Spending by the CIA has surged past that of every other spy agency, with $14.7 billion in requested funding for 2013…

U.S. intelligence officials take an active interest in foes as well as friends. Pakistan is described in detail as an “intractable target,” and counterintelligence operations “are strategically focused against [the] priority targets of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel.”

There is no specific entry for the CIA’s fleet of armed drones in the budget summary, but a broad line item hints at the dimensions of the agency’s expanded paramilitary role, providing more than $2.6 billion for “covert action programs” that would include drone operations in Pakistan and Yemen, payments to militias in Afghanistan and Africa, and attempts to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.

The black budget illuminates for the first time the intelligence burden of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For 2013, U.S. spy agencies were projected to spend $4.9 billion on what are labeled “overseas contingency operations.” The CIA accounted for roughly half of that figure, a sum factored into its overall $14.7 billion budget…

The CIA has deployed new biometric sensors to confirm the identities and locations of a-Qaeda operatives. The system has been used in the CIA’s drone campaign.


Adam Entous, “U.S. Fears Aleppo is next for Chemical Weapons,” Wall Street Journal, August 28, 2013.

Obama administration officials said they believe they must respond quickly to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons, or else the regime will deploy them again in Syria’s largest city, now a key stronghold of the opposition. "Aleppo would probably be one of the likely targets," said a senior administration official.

"What does it say to the world if a government can get away with using the most heinous weapon, chemical weapons, on its own people?" the official said.

(3PA: Chemical weapons are not “the most heinous weapon”–read the classic 1979 Office of Technology Assessment primer on the effects of nuclear weapons.)


James Blitz, “Concerns mount over risk of triggering deeper conflict in Syria,” Financial Times, August 28, 2013.

“The idea that the west can neatly restrict any attack to a short duration punishment with the limits drawn exclusively by us is naive in the extreme,” says a senior British military commander, speaking privately. “Ultimately, one can’t help but think that these attack plans are more about restoring US authority than about helping to resolve a vicious civil war in Syria.”

In the US, military analysts are expressing similar doubts. “The comments from anonymous senior officials that a potential strike against Syria would be “punitive” are alarming,” says Christopher Harmer of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. “A strike taken to punish leaders does not constitute a strategy or even a sound military objective.”

(3PA: In the New York Times this week, I discussed why a limited strike will lead to deeper intervention.)


Thom Shanker, C. J. Chivers, and Michael R. Gordon, “Obama Weighs ‘Limited’ Strikes Against Syrian Forces,” New York Times, August 27, 2013.

A wide range of officials characterized the action under consideration as “limited,” perhaps lasting no more than one or two days. The attacks, which are expected to involve scores of Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from American destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, would not be focused on chemical weapons storage sites, which would risk an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe and could open up the sites to raids by militants, officials said.

The strikes would instead be aimed at military units that have carried out chemical attacks, the headquarters overseeing the effort and the rockets and artillery that have launched the attacks, according to the options being reviewed within the administration.

An American official said that the initial target lists included fewer than 50 sites, including air bases where Syria’s Russian-made attack helicopters are deployed. The list includes command and control centers as well as a variety of conventional military targets.

(3PA: Remember the last time we attacked Syria? If curious, I’ve also written a book on what limited air strikes and cruise missiles can achieve.)


Jim Miklaszewski, Courtney Kube, and Eric McClam, “Military strikes on Syria ‘as early as Thursday,’ US officials say,” NBC News, August 27, 2013.

Senior officials told NBC News that Defense Department planning had advanced to the point that three days of strikes were anticipated, after which strategists could run an assessment and target what was missed in further rounds.

U.S. missile strikes would almost certainly be launched from Navy destroyers or submarines in the Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. in recent days has moved destroyers closer to Syria, which sits on the sea’s eastern edge, but that was mostly a symbolic move. U.S. Tomahawk missiles are so precise that they can hit not just buildings but also specific windows, and they could hit Syrian targets from far farther west in the Mediterranean.


Secretary Hagel’s Remarks at Malaysia’s Institute of Defence and Security, U.S. Department of Defense, August 25, 2013.

HAGEL: I think the world has had enough war.  And I think one of the things that we have learned over the years, regardless of the region of the world, is that wars can’t resolve differences, and not in the world that we live in today, especially, that is so interconnected and so interdependent.  It is a world where we must respect each other and each other’s rights.

(3PA: The following day Hagel added: "I didn’t say, would never say, have never said, that no nation should ever go to war. I wish the world was such that nations didn’t go to war.")

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